Category Archives: Recipes

Sorghum Cake

Because of the research I do, into not only where foods come from but also how they were utilized, I go through a fair number of old cookbooks. Surprisingly, at least once we hit the 1800s in the United States, a lot of the recipes—most of them in fact—look pretty appetizing. By the mid-1800s in the U.S., booming agriculture and increasing transportation options were making a lot of previously rare ingredients available, and home cooks were taking advantage of the variety and abundance.

A recipe for sorghum cake caught my eye when I was combining research with trying to find something to take to a party. I modified the icing from the original, to make it a bit more interesting, but the cake was outstanding without modification. This not too sweet dessert received rave reviews from those to whom I served it.

If you don’t have a nearby store that sells sorghum syrup, it’s readily available on the Internet. If you really can’t locate sorghum, unsulphured molasses could be substituted—but do try to find sorghum, if just to discover what this one-time staple is like.

Sorghum Cake
3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sorghum syrup
1 cup thick, old-fashioned-style applesauce
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (freshly ground makes a big difference here)
1/2 tsp. ground clovers
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the shortening and granulated sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then beat in the sorghum syrup and applesauce.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Then stir into the batter.

The batter can then be poured into greased and floured cake pans. The original recipe called for three, eight-inch round pans, to make layers. For the crowd I was serving, I choose a 13” x 9” sheet cake pan. For layers, bake for twenty minutes, or until done. For a sheet cake, bake for 10 minutes longer, and then test for doneness. Cool before icing.

Icing:
1/4 cup butter
3 cups powdered sugar
milk or light cream

The original recipe stopped with those ingredients. I put a tablespoon of rum in the empty sorghum tin and swirled it around, to get the last little bit of syrup, and used that along with the cream to thin the icing. I also added a few grating of fresh nutmeg. Made a mighty tasty icing.

To make the icing, beat the butter until light and then gradually beat in the powdered sugar. This will be about the consistency of modeling clay. Add the liquid (milk, cream, or, like I did, cream plus rummy sorghum syrup remnants) until it becomes the consistency of spreadable icing. If you’re doing layers, you’ll have plenty for the entire cake. If you’re doing a sheet cake, you may have a little extra icing—but that’s never a bad thing.

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Beet Soup

Borsch? Borscht? Depends on who you’re talking to or what sources you check. Encyclopedia Britannica has borsch and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has borscht. Of course, both mention the other, along with other possible spellings. The problem arises from the fact that the word occurs in several Eastern European languages, plus it’s being transliterated from another alphabet, and there is rarely a perfect correlation between the sounds represented by characters in differing alphabets.

Webster’s does offer this little bit of info on the origin of the word: Yiddish borsht & Ukrainian & Russian borshch First Known Use: 1808

Some sources suggest that the Ukraine is where borsch was born, but I think most folks associate this beet soup with Russia. Russia is, indeed, among the cold places where beets are quite happy to grow, and borsch is probably Russia’s most widely known soup.

There are numerous variations of the soup throughout Russia. It may have a base of beef or chicken, or be completely vegetarian. Beets are about the only consistent ingredient, though cabbage appears in most versions, too. However, many recipes include a wider variety of vegetables. The modification that makes a borsch Moscow-style is the addition of ham or slab bacon. If you don’t want ham, leaving it out of the recipe below won’t make it inauthentic, it just won’t be Muscovite. This is a hearty, delicious soup with a slight sweet-sour taste. Enjoy.

Borsch Muskovskaia
(Moscow-style beet soup)

1 quart beef broth
2 quarts water
2–2.5 lb. beef brisket, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb. beets, peeled and cut into strips approximately 1/8 inch wide by 2 inches long
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut into strips
2 carrots, peeled and cut into strips
1/2 head white or green cabbage, cored and coarsely shredded
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 lb. boiled ham, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup sour cream Continue reading

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Ancient Grains

It has been several years since I worked with Maria Kijac on her highly acclaimed cookbook, The South American Table, but for the last eight months, we have been working together again, this time on a cookbook that focuses on the ancient grains of Latin America: quinoa, kañiwa, amaranth, and chia seeds. These “super grains” (which are really seeds, rather than true grains) offer many benefits, including a full complement of essential amino acids, which no cereal grain offers. Because quinoa is the most easily obtained of these grains, there are more recipes using quinoa, but because chia is the greatest powerhouse of the group, Maria has found plenty of recipes to feature this astonishing grain (which has more antioxidants than blueberries and more Omega 3 fatty acids than salmon). Because of their remarkable health and energy benefits, these grains were considered sacred among the ancient people of Latin America, from the Inca of the Andes Mountains region to the Aztecs of central Mexico.

I can’t share with you any of Maria’s recipes (or the joy of testing them while we worked together), but I can share a quinoa recipe I developed for an outing with friends a couple of years ago. It has a lot of big flavors, plus the high fiber and other nutritional benefits of quinoa.

The dried mushrooms I used were the Gourmet Mushroom Blend from Manitou Trading Co. The blend included morels, porcini, Brazilian caps, ivory portabellas, shiitakes, and oyster mushrooms.

I think you’ll like it.

Mushroom Quiona
5 to 6 ounces dried mushrooms
1/2 lb. slab bacon
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 cups quinoa
enough chicken broth to make up four cups liquid with the mushroom soaking liquid
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms overnight in water to cover. (I poured hot water over the mushrooms, let it cool, and then put it in the fridge till the next day.)

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. Chop the mushrooms roughly and set aside.

Cut the bacon into lardons (blocks about 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch x thickness of slab of bacon). Fry in large pot until they begin getting crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Sauté the onions in the fat from the bacon. When onions are translucent, stir in the quinoa. (NOTE: Check the package of quinoa. Some is prewashed. If it isn’t prewashed, the instructions will instruct you to rinse the grain. You definitely want to rinse any unwashed quinoa. If you bought bulk and there are no instructions, taste a bit of the uncooked quinoa. If it tastes soapy, then rinse it thoroughly before cooking. Or, to be really safe, just go ahead and put it in a strainer and rinse it. Quinoa seeds produce a protective coating of saponins, which are bitter and will ruin the taste of the dish if the quinoa is not rinsed well.)

Stir the quinoa into the onion and fat, to coat the grains. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid and chicken broth, combined to make four cups liquid. Cook for twenty minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Stir in the bacon and chopped mushrooms. Season to taste. Enjoy.

(Note: if slab bacon is not readily available, get the thickest cut bacon you can find, and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces).

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Papas Arequipeña

When Spanish conquistadors reached Peru, they found an incredible wealth of new foods. The potato, in particular, impressed them. Spanish soldier, poet, and, later, secular priest Juan de Castellanos, who traveled in South America in the mid-1500s, in comparing the potato to some of the rougher food he had encountered as he explored, declared that it was “a dainty dish even for Spaniards.” The potato’s potential as a means of feeding the masses was immediately recognized, and speculators were soon flooding into Peru, buying potatoes from the Andean natives, then reselling them (at a large profit) to mineworkers back home.

Since the potato is indigenous to Peru, it is not surprising that it still figures largely in the local cuisine. This recipe originates in the city of Arequipa, in southern Peru. It combines Inca traditions (potatoes, peanuts, chilies) with colonial introductions (milk, cheese, eggs and olives). It is delicious, filling, and easy to make. In more aristocratic Peruvian homes, this might be presented before the main course, but for most people, it’s a meal in itself.

Papas Arequipeña
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 serrano or jalapeño chilies, seeded
1/2 cup grated Münster cheese
3 to 4 scallions (depending on thickness), including some green
2 lb. small boiling potatoes
4 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/2 cup ripe olives
parsley or cilantro, to garnish

In a blender or food processor, combine the peanuts, evaporated milk, salt and pepper, chilies, cheese, and onions. Purée until the mixture is about the consistency of heavy mayonnaise.

Scrub the potatoes, cut them into quarters and boil until tender. Drain them, then return to pot. Pour the sauce over the potatoes, add the chopped egg, and mix together. Mound it all onto a platter. Arrange olives around potatoes, decorate with sliced egg, if desired, and garnish with parsley or cilantro. Serves 6.

Notes: I think regular roasted peanuts are better in this recipe than dry-roasted peanuts. (They are also more authentic.) Dry-roasted peanuts have lots of additional seasonings that alter the taste of the dish. You may like the difference, but you might want to try it with regular roasted peanuts first.

When you make this the first time, wait to add salt. The peanuts and cheese are both salty, and you may not need any additional.

I prefer to use small, red, “new” potatoes; they are higher in protein, so they don’t crumble when you use them in a recipe like this. If you use really tiny potatoes, you can just cut them in half. The idea is to have each chunk be about one or two bites.

As for the eggs, use 4 if this is a side dish and 6 if it’s a main course. If you want to present the dish at the table, then slice one egg, rather than chopping it, and use it as a decoration on top of the potatoes.

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Maine Home Cooking

One of the fun things about being a food historian is that it brings you into contact with other people who share your passion. I realize that is probably true of any serious pursuit–birds of a feather, as they say–but I have been delighted with the many acquaintances and friends I’ve made as I study and search for the foundations of what we eat today.

One of those friends is Sandra Oliver. I first connected with her via the magazine she edited and published for many years: Food History News. What an awesome effort that was–one of the only magazines where I’ve kept every issue and even bought back issues published before I first subscribed. Since then, I’ve met her at food history conferences and kept up a correspondence online. She is a remarkable resource, because she has dug deeper into her specialty than anyone else I know.

Besides the newsletter, consulting work, columns in several magazines and papers, and teaching cooking, Sandra also writes books. I have a couple of her works, and they are gems. Her enthusiasm for her topics is matched by the thoroughness of her research. So when I learned that she had a new book coming out, I figured it was worth letting the world know.

If you are an enthusiast for tradition, New England, American regional cooking, culinary history, Maine, good food, or any combination of those, then Maine Home Cooking is probably a book that probably belongs on your book shelf. Hundreds of recipes cover a range from from classic tried-and-true dishes to new uses for traditional ingredients. It is a cookbook that you can actually use, written for the home cook.

And because I mentioned other books and food history, I should probably offer those titles as well, in case you’re interested. Sandra’s other books include Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century, The Food of Colonial and Federal America, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie, which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin.

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Lost Recipes Found

Food memories–they are strong and important and connect us to where we came from, whether “where we came from” is a place, a time, or a relationship in our personal histories. The iconic example of this has long been Marcel Proust’s waxing lyrical over madeleines and lime-blossom tea. More recently, we saw the food critic in the animated feature “Ratatouille” dissolve back to childhood at the taste of a dish that conjured his past.

But sometimes, those memories are just that–memories–because those tastes have vanished from our lives. Never fear, Monica Kass Rogers is here. On her site, Lost Recipes Found, Monica shares her pursuit of foods from the past, recreating and sharing the recipes for foods that were part of our histories. (To be honest, the great photographs and wonderful descriptions will probably make you want to try the recipes even if the dishes in question aren’t something from your own personal journey.) The site also offers a “swap shop,” where you can list a recipe you are seeking or contribute one, if it’s one you know.

This is a gorgeous site, but it’s also a lot of fun, tripping down a tantalizing memory lane, thinking back to when you last had that pie, cake, sandwich, or other taste treat. So check out Lost Recipes Found–I think you’ll enjoy it.

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English Summer Pudding

As mentioned in the previous post, raspberries are massively popular in Great Britain. Knowing that, it should not come as too much of a surprise that raspberries feature prominently in this classic English summertime dessert. And while it may sound terribly quaint and British to call a dessert like this “pudding” (and the British do now call virtually any dessert “pudding”), my 1967 Webster’s dictionary still identifies pudding as being the cereal-based soft food that the English still think it is.

This is a perfect dessert for celebrating the abundance of summer fruit–and it’s much easier than you might guess from the number of notes following the recipe. It’s just that this dish has many possible permutations, depending on what is ripe and available, so a few comments were necessary. I have made this dish with a variety of berries (and drupelets), but have always included raspberries. Enjoy.

English Summer Pudding

Approx. 1-3/4 to 2 lbs. berries (see notes)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar (see notes)
8–10 slices white bread, crusts removed
whipped cream, crème fraîche, thick cream, or Devonshire cream Continue reading

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Tibetan Lamb Stew

As I noted in my previous post about traveling in Tibet, Snowland Restaurant was one of the Tibetan-owned restaurants I visited while in Lhasa. At Snowland, Indian food is offered, but my friend and I ordered Tibetan. The yak stew with potatoes and lamb stew with turnips were more like soup than what we’d think of as stew, but both were very flavorful. They were served with plates of white rice, and we ladled our stews over the rice. I really liked both stews, but I figured it would be easier to get lamb here in the U.S., so that’s the stew reproduced below.

Lamb is not cut up quite the same in Tibet as it is in the U.S., so it was hard to determine exactly what cuts went into this stew, but I’m guessing the recipe was probably something along the lines of “add one whole lamb” (or, in a restaurant, add two or three). Also, the rangy, scrub-fed lambs of Tibet are heaps leaner than American lamb. That said, I found that lamb shanks and a couple of shoulder blade chops worked well. We had a few ribs in our bowls in Tibet, but the riblets I’ve found locally were very fatty, so I recommend not using them–except that they are probably the cheapest cuts of lamb that you can buy, if your budget is tight but you love lamb. Your local grocery story may not have these cuts; a real butcher or an ethnic grocer may be a better bet. In fact, an ethnic grocer may be able to just give you a 1/4 lamb. Continue reading

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Warm Beef and Watercress Salad

The recipe below comes from Vietnam. Contrast and balance are important elements in most Asian cooking, and salads similar to this, which combine warm and cool elements in one dish, are common throughout Southeast Asia. Enjoy.

Warm Beef and Watercress Salad

3/4 lb. beef tenderloin, sirloin steak, or filet mignon
1 Tbs. green peppercorns, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 stems lemon grass (white part only), very thinly sliced,
or 1 slightly rounded tsp. finely grated lemon rind
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. watercress (about 1-1/2 average bunches)
4 oz. cherry tomatoes
4 scallions, sliced
2 Tbs. lime juice Continue reading

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Scarborough Pie

During the holidays, I was invited to a potluck dinner where I knew a couple of people were vegetarians. I had a load of cheese and onions on hand, so I thought a pie of some sort would be a fun thing to attempt. However, knowing that one of the vegetarians doesn’t like quiche, I knew it would have to avoid being too custardy. And so was born Scarborough pie — so named because I used parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. (If you don’t immediately see the connection from the list of herbs, I suggest you listen to the song “Scarborough Fair” by Simon & Garfunkel.)

The winter has been mild, so the sage, rosemary, and thyme were still growing out in the pots on my balcony, so parsley was the only one that I needed to use dried — though using dried herbs would work splendidly, as well.

The non-quiche friend loved this. I hope you do, too. Continue reading

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